I’ve mentioned this a billion times before, but honestly I forget that I’m Vietnamese sometimes. I forget how much of the Vietnamese culture is ingrained into my habits, even when I live most days in Canadian English culture. When I was approached for food photography for Ontario Produce Made Simple, I was asked for Vietnamese recipes to add some variety to the site. For a moment, I thought, wait why Vietnamese specifically?
And then I realized, right. Because I’m Vietnamese.
When people meet me for the first time, they usually ask,
“Are you Chinese?”
I answer, “No.”
I like to play this game where they either leave it at that, or continue listing different types of Asians until they give up and ask me,
“What are you?”
Usually they feel too awkward after getting it wrong the first time. But on occasion, my fellow Viets get a feeling that I’m one of them.
On the subway today, I was in my own little world listening to Foster the People’s new album when suddenly my nose was filled with the familiar minty smell of Eagle Oil, sort of like the Vietnamese version of IcyHot that they use to cure headaches, sore muscles, pimples, and colds. I didn’t have to take of my headphones to know the two women in front of me were Vietnamese. They were sitting in front of me withÂ plaid wheeled carts and a hand-drawn map with instructions written in the standardized Vietnamese handwriting.
If you grew up in Vietnam, everyone’s handwriting is almost the same because of the school system of teaching writing. Of course, there are some variations, like some people’s Ts may be taller, or other’s accents may be more decorative, but essentially, everyone’s writing has the same proportions and evenness.
One of the women got up to peer at the subway map with her glasses on the tip of her nose. Her neck craned and she looked quizzically at the map for her stop. The other woman got up and sat beside me, her explanation why she say there was muffled by my music. As I pulled out my headphones, I heard the end of her question: “…Chinese?”
I shook my head.
Despite the crowded train, she shouted in glee and yelled at her friend in Vietnamese “Chá»‹ Æ¡i! This girl can speak Vietnamese!”
After a few minutes of confusion and my explanation that both Osgoode and Queen were in fact on the same street, they got off the train and waved goodbye, thanking me excitedly as they headed off to find their Chinese/Vietnamese naturopath.
When they left, I was suddenly back in the Canadian English mindset. The Vietnamese side of my getting tucked back into the unused corner of my brain, yet for some reason, I missed the smell of Eagle Oil and suddenly started to crave some of my favourite Vietnamese dishes.
Maybe remembering that I’m Vietnamese makes me too hungry or too homesick. Since Chris is Canadian, from time to time I worry that my future children won’t understand my childhood or my experience as someone who grew up in a Vietnamese home. What if they can’t help Vietnamese people on the subway because they don’t speak Viet? What if they never learn the customs of the Lunar New Year? Will they associate the smells of fish sauce, Eagle Oil, or cooked rice with home?
Sometimes I even miss the very simple recipes, like a standard stir fry in soy sauce and oil served over steamed Jasmine rice. If I’m lucky, I have some bean curd on the side to add to my cooked greens.Â
Today’s H&H theme is Healthy, so I’m sharing a simple, healthy stir fry with lots of goodness from baby bok choy, carrots, and cabbage.
To see the recipe, visit Ontario Produce Made Simple
Check out what my fellow H&H’ers did this week by clicking the links below: